New England Notebook: Swing Action

Few games can match golf’s history and well-established etiquette, but for some golfers, the country-club rituals are less important than the pure sport. A new generation of golfers are playing public courses, designed by superstar links experts, that test their skills in an inviting atmosphere.


Few games can match golf’s history and well-established etiquette, but for some golfers, the country-club rituals are less important than the pure sport. A new generation of golfers are playing public courses, designed by superstar links experts, that test their skills in an inviting atmosphere. Here are some public courses where you can play top-flight golf without knowing the secret handshake.

VERMONT
Tucked away in the shadow of one of central Vermont’s most popular ski resorts is a rare course, the spectacular Okemo Valley Golf Club (802-228-1396; www.okemo.com). The rolling, rippled layout, designed by Vermont architect Steve Durkee, is entertaining and remarkably forgiving, provided you keep your shots out of the ball-gobbling fescue that lines the fairways. “The quality of the course is high-end, but as far as personality and atmosphere, we’re Vermont casual,” says head golf professional Richard Vacca. “We offer all the amenities, but we’re not in your face. If you want head-to-toe service, we have the people that can do that. If you want to come in and be left alone, that’s okay too. We cover all the bases.” The same can be said for Willie Dunn’s Grille (802-228-1387), Okemo’s first-rate restaurant. Its patio has “relax” written all over it.

If you’re hankering to try a true mountain course in the Green Mountain State, head north on Route 100 to Warren and visit the Sugarbush Golf Club, an 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. (800-53-SUGAR, 800-537-8427; www.sugarbush.com). It offers 12 dogleg holes and ear-popping altitude changes.

MAINE
About 15 miles north of Portland, intrepid golfers can find a hidden gem in the town of Gray. The Spring Meadows Golf Course & Country Club at Cole Farms (207-657-2586; www.springmeadowsgolf.com) opened its full 18 holes in 2001. Built on a former dairy farm, the William Bradley Booth design can be either a 4,881-yard lamb from the front tees, or a 6,652-yard lion from the back markers.

Long hitters will salivate over the club’s signature hole, the short par-four 7th hole that features elevated tees and a green protected by water and pot bunkers. “If you’ve scored well here, you’ve earned it,” says head golf pro Nick Glicos. You’ll also love telling friends about it in one of the northeast’s coolest 19th holes, an enormous, renovated post-and-beam dairy barn that now serves as the Spring Meadows Clubhouse.

Two more Maine courses worth considering are well-known by skiers–Sunday River Golf Club outside Bethel (207-824-GOLF, 207-824-4653; www.sundayriver.com) and Sugarloaf Golf Club in Carrabassett Valley (800-THE-LOAF, 800-843-5623; www.sugarloaf.com). Sunday River’s course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., was completed just last year, but is already generating rave reviews for its natural contours and tempting, wide-target greens.

Farther north, the rugged, undulating layout of Sugarloaf, with its sparkling new million-dollar clubhouse, features expansive views of Crocker and Bigelow mountains from the porch and patio, and has been Vacationland’s standard bearer for decades.

MASSACHUSETTS
Another small town to host a big-time course is Bernardston, home of William A. Sandri’s Crumpin-Fox Club (800-943-1901; www.golfthefox.com). Located off Interstate 91, near the Vermont and New Hampshire borders, the Crumpin-Fox Club (named after the former Crump & Fox Soda Company) offers easy access and a tremendous golfing experience. “We’re definitely not frumpy, and I think that’s a good reputation to have,” says head golf professional Michael Zaranek. “We just try to make people feel at home. We want people to feel like we know them, and we’re glad to have them back.”

The sprawling 600-acre hillside course, eloquently sculpted by Roger Rulewich (former head designer for Robert Trent Jones Sr.), features striking stands of hardwood and evergreen trees lining long, deceptively difficult holes.

“Each hole is very individual,” says Zaranek. “You have views from tee to green, so you can see the entire hole in front of you. You can see where the hazards are and where to hit it. But this course is a challenge. That’s why people come here, to challenge their games.”

After you’ve finished your round, unwind at Zeke’s Grill (413-648-5356), a warm and engaging pub that offers a great selection of beers (like local brew Steel Rail Pale Ale), cigars and single-malt whiskeys.

CONNECTICUT
If you leave Crumpin-Fox happy, you owe yourself a visit to another Sandri-Rulewich masterpiece, the Fox Hopyard Golf Club (800-943-1903; www.sandri.com) in East Haddam. This intimidating, nearly 7,000-yard, par-71 monster, built alongside Devil’s Hopyard State Park, demands every ounce of talent you have, with requisite rewards. The clubhouse, with its commanding views atop a 30-foot rock ledge, offers everything from a lively sports bar to the upscale On the Rocks restaurant, where entrees such as prosciutto-wrapped sea bass and beef filet medallions with brie are on the menu.